Over the past fifteen years I've been building up quite a large collection of photography books with almost all of them coming from charity shops, I'm way past the two hundred mark on the last count. I thought it might be a good idea whilst things are quiet in terms of work thanks to covid to reacquaint myself with them and show you the kind of books that can be found for bargain prices if you take a little bit of time once in a while to look. The plan is to make this a regular blog series with a quick review of a few interesting books I've found and I will eventually do another series with different film cameras that I've also picked up at bargain prices in the treasure trove that is the British charity shop. I hope you find them interesting and even better are inspired to go out and start your own affordable and ethical photography book collection!
PORTRAIT AND THE CAMERA by Robert Lassam
The first book in this blog series is a hardback gem called Portrait And The Camera A Celebration Of 150 Years Of Photography by Robert Lassam published in 1989 and bought by me for £1.50 from one of my local charity shops.
As you would expect from such a title the book starts with some information about the pioneers of early photography and the evolution of the camera and developing processes. This covers about twenty pages in the book, is written in a way so that it is easy to understand and the text is broken up by good quality large images so is far from overwhelming.
After the introduction we have 150 or so pages each dedicated to a single portrait spanning across the 150 years leading up to the books publishing date. The portraits are all black and white, presented to high a standard and cover a diverse range of subjects. From Celebrities to the Homeless, Native Americans to Geishas, Picasso to a Ugandan Tribal Executioner. The large contrast in the the subjects accentuates the contrast in artistic style between the portraits and creates some interesting juxtapositions. Photographers include Cecil Beaton, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Arnold Newman.
With such a broad range of subjects and photographers I found it difficult to select a favourite image but there was something about the portrait of poet/artist George Platt Lynes by Jean Cockteau from 1936 that I found especially appealing.
It is very easy for me to recommend this book and I've certainly enjoyed revisiting it. Here are some example pages as well as my chosen favourite image.
APPEALS OF BEIJING by Beijing Publishing House
The second book I pulled off my shelf is completely different to the first, it's not really like any book I've ever seen before. Published in 1990 it was presumably once bought from Beijing for 70.00 Yuan and eventually found its way to me for 50 pence from one of the nearby charity shops so it has done a fair bit of traveling. The book has no synopsis on the back cover or inside and has no contents page and includes both Chinese and English text. There is a double spread dedicated to the English foreword but the limited text is constrained to the bottom right hand corner of each page with the rest blank, a layout which is quite striking in itself.
The text briefly describes what it is like to live in the 3,035 year old city with only the last line describing the intentions of the book.
"May this picture album be helpful to you in understanding some aspects of the lives of people of Beijing, and bring forth a sense of cordiality."
The rest of the book is split into four sections each with a small introduction again written in the bottom right corner of the page. The first section is titled RICH AND COLOURFUL LIVES and the introduction sits somewhere between travel guide and propaganda focusing on the ideals of love, a happy family and the non work aspects of life. Fifty pages of brightly coloured photographs follow featuring Chinese life and people with a healthy mix of wide shots and close ups covering all four seasons.
The other three sections of the book cover Traditional Culture, Food and "Joyous Festivals". Again often brightly coloured and all featuring people framed in wide variety of ways. The book does not give individual credit to any photograph instead there is simply a list of contributing photographers names on the last page.
The photographs in the book show a visually pleasing representation of china but I also think the book itself tells you a little bit more about Chinese culture and politics. The book has no author and the photographs are not credited to any individual. The book is presented as a traditional and structured group effort projecting a purely positive representation of the city and culture.
It's certainly an interesting book and even though I don't think many would come across it, I thought it was worth including as an example of the variety of photographic books you can find in the friendly little charity shops scattered around the UK.
I chose the photo below as my favourite image, the old man pushing his delicate wooden trolly carrying his pet birds. I like everything about the photo, from the intricate subject to the out of focus couple in the background standing in a way that seems to have some unrecognisable tension to my western eyes. The accompanying caption also sums the book up perfectly in my opinion.
"Keeping pet birds and growing flowers, the life of the remaining years can be substantial and happy."